With Pink Shirt Day just around the corner on Feb. 24, bullying is back in the spotlight in Rocky View County (RVC). Pink Shirt Day is held each year throughout Canada to promote a bully-free community.
Recognizing your child is being bullied can sometimes be difficult, according to Christy Redl, youth development co-ordinator with Chestermere Synergy, a non-profit group which does both community and youth work.
“It’s really tricky with bullying and I think it’s really important to first emphasize that there’s a big difference between conflict and bullying,” she said. “Conflict is a natural and healthy part of child development, and how we teach our children to deal with that conflict can determine whether or not that can escalate to bullying.
“The difference with bullying is it’s no longer healthy, it’s no longer a part of child development. When we’re looking at bullying, we’re looking at a power imbalance.”
According to Redl, children can often resolve conflict either on their own or with minimal support from a family member or teacher. However, when a child is bullied, they are not able to resolve that on their own and will require additional support.
“Conflict happens once or twice or every so often. Bullying is consistent, over a long period of time and (it is) relentless,” Redl explained.
Redl said there are some things to watch out for.
“You want to look for extreme behaviour changes. Your child is no longer showing interest in things that used to be fun for them. They’re no longer wanting to go to programs or events they used to enjoy. It can be very different for each individual child.
“They might say things to you. It might come out in their language like, ‘oh, I look ugly today,’ or things like that. It might also be something that other people bring up to you.”
Once it is determined that a child is actually the victim of bullying, Redl said there are a number of things parents and caregivers should do.
“The first thing is to have an honest conversation with that child, which may or may not be an easy thing to do, to get the information that you need,” she said. “There are a lot of resources, though, to help you both online and some via phone.”
“One of the conversations I think it’s really important for parents to have with their children if they think their children are at risk is a conversation surrounding suicide,” she said. “It’s not an easy conversation to have, it’s not a comfortable one but if you ask the question, at least you know.”
That question needs to be blunt – “Are you thinking about suicide” or “are you thinking about killing yourself” – Redl said.
“It’s a very, very important question for parents to practice even if they never have to use it.”
Chestermere Synergy provides information to parents who believe their child is being bullied, according to Redl. More information is available online at truesynergy.ca or by calling 403-207-7048.
Calling 211 – Alberta’s community and social services hotline – or the Alberta Children’s Hospital or Distress Centre in Calgary are also good options, according to Redl.